By Léo Azambuja
For about three decades, Kauai Bakery in Kukui Grove Center had been making what many would argue were the best malasadas on the island. The iconic bakery was also one of the most popular — and affordable — places local families would seek for cakes for all kinds of celebrations.
“Basically, all my cakes growing up were from this bakery, every single birthday and celebration,” said Gracie Galiza, a young pediatrician from Kaua‘i.
But it all almost came to an end a year ago, when word in town was the family-owned-and-operated business was planning to close its doors for good, unable to find the right buyer.
“I remember telling my mom, someone needs to buy this bakery; Kaua‘i is not Kaua‘i without Kauai Bakery,” Gracie said.
A few months later, she teamed up with Gustavo “Guga” Tosi, a young chef originally from Brazil, and who is passionate about bringing the best culinary experience from many different cultures he has experienced all over the world.
“When Gracie learned it was for sale, she asked me to join this effort,” Guga said.
They bought Kauai Bakery last August, and reopened it just in time for Thanksgiving. Like Gracie’s family, many local families got their holiday pies at Kauai Bakery, so she said it was important for them to open on Thanksgiving Day.
But if you haven’t been there yet, and are expecting more of the same, you will be treated to a pleasant surprise. The good things are still there, but there is more, so much more.
Gone are the old looks. The new décor is more welcoming, with an open kitchen, bright lights, clean décor and a seating area — it’s not longer a grab-and-go bakery. You can now get your sweet or savory treats and hang out there. A full coffee bar with specialty coffees is set to open in May.
They kept much of the same old local favorites that over the years won over the hearts and palates of locals and visitors — malasadas, manapuas, pies, turnovers, custom cakes, etc. Gracie and Guga bought the recipes along with the business, and even hired the previous owner — who worked there for 18 years — as the main baker and his brother as the assistant baker.
With Guga as the executive chef and Gracie as his business partner, however, Kauai Bakery has infused a lot of creativity in old favorites and in new items. In St. Patrick’s Day, they made matcha malasadas and cakes. The antioxidant-rich matcha is a finely ground powder of specially grown green tea. For Valentines Day, Guga made strawberry tarts and “brigadeiros,” a popular chocolate treat in his homeland.
“They were actually very popular on Valentines Day,” Gracie said of Guga’s brigadeiros. “We’re hoping to roll out more products soon, maybe more breakfast items and some specialty pastry as well.”
Guga said he wants to keep the bakery’s legacy, give it the respect it deserves, but also introduce classic worldly pastries, where customers can get a taste of Brazil, Spain or France. He wants it to be a welcoming place for everyone.
“That’s my dream,” he said.
Guga said when he moved to Kaua‘i five years ago, he was looking for some sweets, and found the bakery. He said he felt there was something about the place that attracted him. The entrepreneur in him thought that with just a few changes, the bakery could become an incredible place.
He met Gracie last year while both were volunteering at a children’s event at Wilcox Medical Center, and they found out they shared the same passion for good food. It turns out Guga, like Gracie, had gone to school to work in the medical field. But he had been working in the service industry since he was 16, and when he graduated from nursing school at 21 years old, he opened his first restaurant in Texas.
Coming from an extensive background in the food industry, Guga said successful food establishments are ones that really emphasize a welcoming atmosphere.
“We took the existing legacy, and we are keeping it alive and making it so much better,” he said.
Many visitors who have made Kauai Bakery a sure stop have told them the place has become a lot better with the changes.
“Hearing that positive feedback, that we’re doing something right, I think it’s good validation,” Guga said.
Custom cakes are also a large aspect of Kauai Bakery. Gracie said it is important to them to keep it affordable for locals and visitors. And they can do it in very short notices too, from 15 minutes for simpler cakes to a day for more elaborate ones.
“Our cake decorators and employees put their heart and soul in decorating. They are really creative about it, and take their time,” Gracie said.
They chose a special hashtag, #mykauaibakery, to embody the bakery, Guga said, because they wanted this to be everyone’s bakery.
“As we grow, as we get ahead of making this your bakery — truly a true Kauai Bakery for everybody on Kaua‘i — let us know what we are doing right and what we can improve. Give us your feedback on how can we make this more homey for you,” Guga said.
Kauai Bakery is at Kukui Grove Center at 3-2600 Kaumuali‘i Hwy, Lihu‘e. They open every day at 6 a.m. On Friday they close at 9 p.m., on Sunday at 6 p.m., and on other days at 7 p.m.
Visit www.mykauaibakery.com or call (808) 246-4765 for more information.